On March 8, James Vasquez went 0-3 against Colombia. His batting average dropped to .246, nearly 100 points lower than the .340 that he paced UCF with last season.
On Sunday, in perhaps the biggest game of the year — the rubber match of a conference series against No. 15 Houston — Vasquez came up to bat with the score tied and the go-ahead run on third.
He put the first pitch he saw back up the middle for a walk-off single.
Vasquez ended the game against Houston with three hits, and continued the 13-game hitting streak that he started in the game following the performance against Colombia. His batting average is now up to .315.
After a slow start, James Vasquez has turned it around.
"I was just working with [coaches Kevin Schnall and Ryan Klosterman] and they were helping me with my swing, and I'm seeing the ball longer and I'm just putting good swings on them," said Vasquez, who admitted to having no idea he was even on a hitting streak.
Earlier in the same game against Houston, in the seventh inning with two runners on and two out and UCF trailing by one run, Vasquez hadn't come through and had popped out to the third baseman.
"That's why JV is a great player, he's able to put the other at bat to the side and focus on the present," head coach Terry Rooney said.
Last season, Vasquez was probably the most valuable offensive player on the UCF team. He led the Knights in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and was second in home runs.
This season, with people in the organization and around the country expecting big things from UCF, there may have been a lot of pressure on Vasquez to succeed.
He didn't immediately, but UCF did. The Knights started 10-0, and were having no trouble finding people who were hitting.
Vasquez, who hit cleanup all year last year, was even moved down to eighth in the batting order at one point. But then, slowly, starting with a series at Florida State, Vasquez began his hitting streak and slowly started to regain the form he had last season.
But what's he doing differently? Rooney says, nothing at all.
"He hasn't changed anything, doesn't need to," he said. "[Vasquez is] a hard worker, one of our leaders, and has done a terrific job."
After the walk-off hit against Houston, Rooney even had to invent a new word to describe Vasquez and what he brings to UCF.
"That shows right there, though. I call it the 'veteranship,'" Rooney said. "I don't know if that's a word; it's my word. That just shows you the poise that he has."
Just like Rooney, other players on the team knew there was never any need to worry about Vasquez.
"His work ethic's up there, there's no highs or lows with him, he's always putting in the work day in and day out," said UCF senior pitcher Zach Rodgers. "He's a great player."
The season for UCF is now more than half way over. Conference play is starting, and if they keep playing well there will be an NCAA Regional right after that.
UCF may have been able to succeed if Vasquez kept struggling. They may have been able to continue to rely on other players having career seasons, but they'd rather not.
They'd rather Vasquez be the All-AAC player he was last season. They'd rather Vasquez be the guy who other teams have to game plan for. They'd rather Vasquez get a walk-off hit to win a series against the No. 15 team in the nation.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.